Koh Ker Temple
The site of Koh Ker, a former 10th century capital of the Angkorian empire, is one of the most remote and inaccessible temple sites in Cambodia, long abandoned to the forests of northern Cambodia. Also known as Chok Gargyar, it served as the capital of Jayavarman IV (reigned 928-42) who, having seized the throne from a rival, left Angkor and transferred his capital here, where it remained throughout his reign. His son and successor Harshavarman I moved the capital back to Angkor in 944.
There are a remarkable number of religious buildings in the Koh Ker region, considering the short space of time that it was the capital of the empire. There are more than 30 major structures and experts believe there may have been as many as 100 minor sacred buildings in the region. It was also a profilic period for gigantic sculpture and several of the most impressive pieces in te National Museum in Phnom Penh come from Koh Ker, including a huge garuda (half-man, half-bird creature) greeting visitors in the entrance hall and a unique carving depicting a pair of wrestling monkey kings.
The principal monument at Koh Keh is Prasat Thom, sometimes referred to as Prasat Kompeng, a 40m-hight sandstone-faced pyramid of seven levels. This is now very overgrown with bushes and scrub, but offers some spectacular views across the forest from its summit. Some 40 inscriptions, dating from 932 to 1010, have been found at Prasat Thom, offering an insight into Cambodia history at this time. Heading northeast, the compound includes the obligatory libraries, as well as a host of smaller brick sanctuaries. Beyond the inner wall and across a naga-flanked causeway lies Prasat Krohom (Red Temple), the second-larges structure at Koh Ker. Named after the red bricks from which it is constructed, Prasat Krahom is famous for its carved lions (sadly none of which remain today), similar to those found at Prasat Tao in the Sambor Prei Kuk group of temples near Kompong Thom.
South of this central group is a large baray know as the Rahal , fed by Stung Sen, which would have supplied water to irrigate the land in this arid area. There are many other structures in the area, including Prasat Damrei , named after its now-vanished elephant statues; Prasat Chen , where the wrestling apes were found; and Prasat Neang Khmau , with some fine door lintels still in place.
Koh Ker is one of the least-studied temple areas from the Angkorian period. Louis Delaporte visited in 1880 during his extensive investigations into Angkorian temples. It was surveyed in 1921 by the great Henri Parmentier for an article in the Bulletin de l’Ecole D’Extreme Orient , but no restoration work was ever undertaken here. Archeological surveys were carried out by Cambodian teams in teh 1950s and 1960s, but all records vanished during the destruction of the 1970s, helping to preserve this complex as something of an enigma.